Page last updated at 15:45 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Westminster Diary

Welcome to our round-up of snippets from the corridors of power.


Motorola pagers
Are pagers making a comeback in the Commons?
Pagers - the pocket messaging devices sometimes used as remotely-operated cattle prods to make sure Labour MPs stay on message - were meant to have been binned along with all the other paraphernalia of Blair-era control freakery. But reports of their death may have been exaggerated. The Parliamentary Labour Party has doubled the amount it pays from MPs' allowances to Vodafone for messaging services over the past year, a written answer from deputy Commons leader Chris Bryant reveals. The party paid the telecoms firm 4,981 last year and 10,700 so far this year. How long can it be before Labour MPs are simultaneously leaping to attention in the Commons chamber and reaching for their pockets, just like the good old days?


Somebody on the left was bound to say it sooner or later, so it might as well be George Galloway. The Respect leader has called on Gordon Brown to nationalise Woolworths, in order to save the high street store chain from closure. About 30,000 staff face losing their jobs if the business is forced to shut, with administrators unable to find a buyer for the company. The Bethnal Green MP is urging the government to create a "People's Woolies" under public control. He has tabled a Commons motion, saying the move would act as "a bulwark against the worst effects of the recession, employing local people, sourcing local produce, and providing goods and services for those on low incomes". He says the prime minister should act "as a matter of urgency before the assets of Woolworths are stripped without any public benefit whatsoever".


Could the church collection plate be the next victim of the credit crunch? Annual Church of England collections totalled 56m according to the most recent figures, Labour MP Stuart Bell revealed this week in the Commons. That adds up to 8.64 a week or 450 a year per worshipper. But Tory MP Anne McIntosh fears a looming recession could lead to belt-tightening in the pews - and she is renewing her campaign for VAT to be cut from church repairs. Mr Bell, who speaks for the Church Commissioners, says the government's hands are tied on sales taxes by the EU.


Ardal O'Hanlon as Thermoman
Not all super heroes are super
What is it with all the super heroes? First Harriet Harman hails Gordon Brown as Superman, following his inadvertent claim to have "saved the world", then Labour MP Anne Moffat is heard calling Ms Harman Wonder Woman. Now Ms Harman is pictured on the front of Total Politics magazine as Wonder Woman. But if the cabinet really are trying to model themselves on the Justice League of America - the fictional team of superheroes assembled by DC Comics in the 1970s - they might be in for a disappointment. Peter Mandelson, the dark lord himself, is a shoo-in for Batman, of course. And there might be a bit of a clamour to be dubbed the Flash or The Green Lantern ("utterly honest and born without fear"). But there are not likely to be many takers for Aquaman, who was often mocked for his relatively feeble powers. And as for the Martian Manhunter....


Do you like prison food? Well, you'll love Prison Clusters! No it's not a nutritious breakfast cereal but the new, less scary-sounding, name for Jack Straw's planned "titan prisons", revealed this week. What's wrong with a helping of porridge?


Nigel Farage was spluttering with indignation this week at the "ghastly puritans" in the government and their plans to hide cigarettes from view in corner shops. What with reaching up to put "sex magazines" on the top shelf and then bending under the counter to sell packets of fags, the government was going to have to set up a new medical fund help shopkeepers, raged Mr Farage, who is known to enjoy a cigarette or two himself. "If they want to protect the health of our children they might be better off imposing some sort of sanctions against fast foot outlets," he concluded in a press release. We think he meant to say "fast food" but you never know what dastardly nanny state plot the UKIP leader may have uncovered now...

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